Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Can I Dream?

The conclusion to my 30 years in the making, 8 session, ALIEN FRONTIER campaign - run with Free League Publications' ALIEN RPG - occurred on Saturday, August 7th of 2021 after a year+ hiatus due to the Global Pandemic. 

I would describe the outing as an excellent session but a disappointing end to the series as a whole. 

Originally I wanted to give you all the play-by-play and detail everything that great and not-so-great about the session. Now, with sometime having past and my disappointment with the series' conclusion having truly set in, I would prefer to just give an overview of the game and why it didn't work as the end of what had up to that point been one of my best campaigns in a long time. 

To start with, not all of the players were available for the finale and that forced me to treat their characters as NPCs; something I don't mind doing but which doesn't feel right for a final episode of a series with really good characters.

One of the players missing was my dearly departed friend David Cotton. Not having Dave their was something I was very aware of the entire session and it made me very sad. Thankfully, the players who did show brought wonderful, positive energy and it made the event very enjoyable. 

The session was set for a six and a half hour run time and ended up going a full seven hours (more on that below). It featured six of the nine players (as mentioned above), though all the Player Characters were present and accounted for in the story. 

From a gamemaster's perspective, I divided the episode into three acts in order to facilitate what I hoped would a well organized narrative with a satisfying conclusion. I was not wholly successful. While Act 1 and 2 were fantastic - full of fast paced action, close calls, dark humor, and great PC characterization - I dropped the ball in Act 3. 

The problem was the final act, when the stakes were highest and people were willing to have their characters die in order to save others or accomplish something significant, one player revealed that he'd been working toward a single goal the campaign and was unwilling to change course this [literally] late in the game.

I felt for him. I heard in his voice and saw on his face that what he wanted to accomplish was essentially what he'd been playing for for the past seven sessions. That's when I made the mistake of caving and allowing said player's PC to succeed. I made sure it was difficult to accomplish by increasing the task difficulty. The rolls were in the player's favor.

This touches on my recent discussion of Fudging. I should have Fudged a number of times during this session or simply not allowed a roll. That isn't my style of course. In fact, one of my personal 'Prime Directives' is as follows: If a player has a good idea and comes to it through solid reasoning, in-game knowledge and references, and employ nothing that defies the milieu as it has been established, I tend to allow it. At the very least it gets a roll. 

My second major directive is that the universal laws of my game are those of the setting/genre that the game covers. In other words, if you are playing a Superhero RPG based on Marvel Comics than the bottom line deciding any unclear action or event is to ask and answer the question, 'Well, how does it work in Marvel Comics?'

So, while we ended the game with a series of actions that brought about a reasonable ending, it wasn't right for the game. As one of the players put it, "This was an ALIEN game. The ending felt like the ending of a Star Trek adventure. It didn't feel like ALIEN." That perfectly sums up my feelings as well. 

The ending was too positive. It had too many survivors. It accomplished things too well and too cleanly.

I am not one for killing PCs but here I was totally ready to because, as noted, one of my goals is always to do things the way the genre/setting/IP does them. In ALIEN, nearly everyone should be dead at the end. I felt sorry for that one player and their PC and it cascaded from there. 

The entire series, the campaign, is still one of my best works. I am extremely proud of it and the cast of players and PCs that were a part of it. The finale just didn't land right.

I meant to be the Russo Brothers but ended up as Benioff and Weiss. 

Next time...


Barking Alien


  1. I love your description of your gaming Prime Directive.

    However, I'm sorry to hear you weren't satisfied with the ending of this campaign, but without further details on why it was more Star Trek than Alien it's difficult to formulate a deeper opinion. Although describing it as a "Benioff and Weiss" finale is possibly terrifying enough!

    1. Isn't it though?

      The ending of the game being 'more Star Trek than Alien' is simply one of themes and approaches. Both IPs are Science Fiction but they handle Sci-Fi very differently.

      An Alien RPG campaign that ends with a peaceful understanding between Humanity and an advanced extraterrestrial intelligence doesn't quite feel right in my opinion.

    2. Surely, then, that peaceful accord is simply the launchpad for your next story arc: when the player-characters discover the E.T.'s secret agenda behind this unusual detente?

  2. "The ending was too positive. It had too many survivors. It accomplished things too well and too cleanly."

    YES! Not every game, or session, or campaign, or story, or genre needs a happy ending or a nice neat wrap-up!

    I'm sorry to hear it didn't quite go the way you had hoped but look at it this way - you completed something and your players had a good time. That's an accomplishment these days.